Even with all Chicago, Illinois, has to offer, sometimes it just feels right to get away for a day.
Exploring a sleepy river town, fishing in a river surrounded by towering canyon walls, or answering the call of your inner history buff, can leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed. Here are top day trips from Chicago that will awaken your soul and enhance your well-being.
1. Milwaukee (1 hour 35 minutes)
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Thanks to the well-known 1960s Schlitz beer jingle, pop culture fans are aware that it’s the “beer that made Milwaukee famous”. Today, Milwaukee’s German brewing heritage is alive and well. Visitors will find numerous microbreweries, historical brewery tours, and brewpubs along with farm-to-table eateries serving local craft beers.
Milwaukee’s other cultural icon, Harley-Davidson, offers museum tours that showcase motorcycle artifacts like the oldest-known Harley in the world. Also nicknamed the “City of Festivals”, Milwaukee is home to over two dozen celebrations, including Summerfest, the world’s biggest music fest. Seventy-five golf courses, 25 theaters, and 150 parks round out this day-trip getaway. Things to Do in Milwaukee
2. Holland, Michigan (2 hours 30 minutes)
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There are plenty of reasons to visit Holland, Michigan, but the Dutch heritage experience is the best of them. During spring, over 4.5 million tulips are in bloom at Veldheer Tulip Gardens, Windmill Island Gardens, and other places all over the city.
The Tulip Time Festival in early May draws visitors from around the world, who come to indulge in Dutch food, music, parades, and Klompen dancing. At any time, visitors will find historical Dutch architecture, windmills, Dutch cuisine, the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory, and a collection of art at the Holland Museum. Late November brings the Dutch Winterfest and its Parade of Lights. Things to Do in Holland
3.Kettle Moraine State Forest (2 hours 40 minutes)
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Kettle Moraine State Forest is 30,000 acres of forested land in Wisconsin. Eleven designated-use trails meander through the 30-mile wide forest to provide visitors with places to ride on horseback, hike, bike, mountain bike, ski, snowshoe, and cross-country ski. Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive was designed specifically so that visitors from surrounding cities could drive through the most beautiful scenery of the forest on a day trip.
The 115-mile drive passes by or near four historical sites – Wade House Stagecoach Inn, Holy Hill Basilica, Cushing Memorial Park, and the Old World Wisconsin Outdoor Museum, as well as 24 natural areas, numerous geological landmarks, and 17 small Wisconsin communities.
N1765 Highway G, Campbellsport, WI, Phone: 262-626-2116
4.Lake Geneva (1 hour 40 minutes)
© Lake Geneva
Chicagoans may wonder why they should leave Lake Michigan for Lake Geneva, but the two experiences are worlds apart. Lake Geneva is a Wisconsin resort city on the shores of a small lake by the same name. It’s where wealthy Chicagoans came to build their mansions during the Gilded Age.
Visitors can walk or bike the 21-mile shoreline along the Lake Geneva Shore Path for an up-close view, or see them from the water with the Lake Geneva Cruise Line. This year-round getaway offers an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, nightlife, outdoor activities, and points of interest like Einstein’s favorite – Yerkes Observatory.
5.Day Trips from Chicago: Naperville (40 minutes)
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Naperville is a prairie town turned award-winning small city that has earned accolades from Money Magazine – Best Places to Live, Kiplinger – Best Places for Early Retirement, Zero Population Growth – Top Five Kid-Friendliest Cities, and many others.
Besides Naperville’s small town charm, the best reason for a day trip here is Riverwalk, the city’s 1.75-mile walkway along the DuPage River. Highlights include Moser Tower – a beautiful 158-foot bell tower, a clock tower, three fountains, a covered bridge, heritage sculptures, an amphitheater and labyrinth, and paddle boats. Visitors can also visit the popular Centennial Beach and Grill, a sandy beach waterpark and restaurant.
6.Village of Oak Park (15 minutes)
© Village of Oak Park
Oak Park is a self-described village of free-thinking rebels and risk-takers. The community prides itself on its racial, cultural, ethnic, professional, religious, socio-economic, lifestyle, and religious diversity. In other words, everyone is welcome here. History buffs will want an Oak Park day trip to include a walking tour of the Wright District, an area of prairie-style homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; his personal home and studio are open to tour.
Visitors may also like the Oak Park Conservatory, and Brookfield Zoo. There are numerous independent shopping boutiques, a robust culinary scene, and a Saturday farmers’ market.
7.Six Flags Great America (1 hour)
© Six Flags Great America
Six Flags America is probably one of the most well-known themed amusement parks in the country. Their Gurnee location is open on the last weekend of April through the first weekend of November. You’ll find 17 thrill rides, including 14 roller coasters, 23 family-friendly rides, and 17 rides designed especially for kids.
Visitors can indulge in a wide variety of eats at over 50 restaurants and stands. Hurricane Harbor is the park’s 20-acre water park with 30 attractions including surf simulators, water slides, river floats, children’s water playgrounds, and a 14,000-square-foot family pool. It’s open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
1 Great America Parkway, Gurnee, IL, Phone: 847-249-1776
8.Day Trips from Chicago: North Utica (1 hour 45 minutes)
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North Utica is a sleepy river town along the Illinois-Michigan canal and nearby Illinois River that will appeal to antique, wine, and nature lovers. Visitors will find wineries and wine shops, antique stores, flea markets, rustic furniture and collectibles shops, and a pottery studio.
You can learn about the town’s history at the LaSalle County Historical Museum, and dine at popular eateries like Cajun Connection and Canal Port Bar & Grill. Grand Bear Resort has inexpensive day passes to their 24,000-foot indoor waterpark, as well as a restaurant, sports bar, and sweet shop. Four nearby state parks provide outdoor recreational opportunities.
9.Chicago Botanic Garden (35 minutes)
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Chicago Botanic Garden is home to over 30 distinct gardens. Whether it’s the well-manicured Crescent and Heritage gardens or the naturalistic style of the Lakeside and Native Plant gardens, the planning and execution is purposeful. With such range, choosing a favorite garden is a highly personal decision.
The botanical garden offers several self-guided walking tours that are narrated via a smart phone app. Families with children may want to include the Nature Play Garden and the Children’s Growing Garden during their visit. Guests will also find bike trails and rentals, birding and birding classes, and an onsite restaurant and gift shop.
1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL, Phone: 847-835-5447
10.Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (1 hour)
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Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore provides visitors with a 15-mile stretch of beach along Lake Michigan’s southern shore that’s perfect for a beach day getaway. Fifty miles of diverse trails weave along the lakeshore where visitors can hike, bike, ride on horseback, snowshoe, cross-country ski, or bird watch.
Besides beaches, highlights include interpretive programs, ranger-led walking tours, the children’s outdoor Nature Play Zone at the Paul H. Douglas Center, four historical buildings from a 19th century homestead, and a 3500-square-foot modern pavilion. Every day trip should include a hike up West Beach’s Succession Trail for an epic view of the Chicago skyline.
1100 N. Mineral Springs Road, Porter, IN, Phone: 219-395-1882
11.Road trips from Chicago: Old State Capitol State Historic Site (3 hours)
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The Greek Revival-style Old State Capitol, completely reconstructed in Springfield, Illinois, is dedicated to the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. It’s where he delivered his famous “House Divided” speech, and where, following his assassination, he lay in state on May 3rd and 4th in 1865.
Visitors can watch a 15-minute video in the audio-visual theater describing the history of the Old Capitol prior to touring it on either a self-paced tour or a 30-minute docent-led tour. Special events at the Old Capitol include the Abraham Lincoln Symposium, Holocaust Remembrance Day, an Annual Civil War Encampment, and the Old Capitol Art Fair.
Old State Capitol Plaza, 6th and Adams Streets, Springfield, IL, Phone: 217-785-7960
12.Apple River Canyon State Park (2 hours 30 minutes)
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Nature lovers looking for respite from city life will find it at Apple River Canyon State Park in the rolling hills of northwest Illinois. Inside the park, visitors can see the Apple River carving its way through a limestone canyon.
Anglers will appreciate early spring trout fishing along with summer sunfish and small-mouth bass fishing. Four picnic areas along the scenic river give visitors an opportunity to barbecue and make use of park grills, tables, and nearby restrooms. Hikers are advised that the five rugged trails crisscrossing the woods present potential hazards. Flora and fauna are abundant in the park.
8763 E. Canyon Road, Apple River, IL, Phone: 815-745-3302
13.Starved Rock State Park (1 hour 35 min)
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Just under 100 miles from the bustling city of Chicago is the number one attraction in Illinois, Starved Rock State Park. The towering bluffs in this park give visitors an unexpected variation from the flatlands for which this state is famed.
Featuring more than 15 canyons offering breathtaking views of sandstone bluffs, the Illinois River, and large lush trees, this park attracts millions of visitors each year. Stunning hiking trails feature plants, wildflowers, waterfalls, wildlife, birds, and more. In addition, there is a nearly endless list of outdoor activities, including horseback riding, kayaking, rafting, and water cruises, to name a few.
2668 East 873 Road, Oglesby, IL, Phone: 815-667-4211
14.Day Trips from Chicago: Brookfield Zoo (25 minutes)
© Brookfield Zoo
Since 1934, the Brookfield Zoo has enthralled while simultaneously teaching more than 2 million visitors annually. The over 200-acre nature park houses over 2,000 animals and is equipped with a fully accredited arboretum.
As a world-renowned zoo, visitors can enjoy an eclectic array of wildlife highlighting various places around the globe; Australia House and Habitat Africa are two shining examples of this. Visitors can do everything from watching dolphins in action to having hands-on experiences with red pandas, reindeer, and alpacas. In addition to animal encounters, attractions such as face painting, carousel rides, and motor safaris add to the fun.
8400 31st Street, Brookfield, IL, Phone: 708-668-8000
15.Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (3 hours)
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The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum gives visitors from across the globe a chance to learn about “The Great American Story” that is Abraham Lincoln. The museum offers a wide range of interactive learning activities and full-immersion exhibits. Civil War artifacts, precious documents, traveling exhibits, and walking tours are a few of the highlights.
Annual events such as art contests and museum scavenger hunts provide unique ways of absorbing both this era and President Lincoln’s story. The library features manuscripts, newspapers on microfilm, bibliographies, and other printed materials for an in-depth study of one of the United States’ most influential presidents.
112 N. Sixth Street, Springfield, IL, Phone: 217-557-6250
16.Blaum Bros. Distilling Co (2 hours 50 minutes)
© Blaum Bros. Distilling Co
The Blaum Bros. Distilling Co was created by two rivalrous brothers who bonded over their shared affinity for whiskey. That discovery led them to the art of distilling. At Blaum Bros. Distillery in Galena, Illinois, visitors dive into the fascinating world of distilling fine spirits.
Guests are guided on a sensory journey through the distilling process, where they’ll see, taste, touch, and smell the various ingredients that create the brothers’ handcrafted spirits. At the end of the tour, guests may take a few moments to relax and indulge in bourbon, gin, vodka, and moonshine from the cozy tasting room and cocktail bar.
9380 W US Highway 20, Galena, IL, Phone: 815-777-1000
17.Anderson Japanese Gardens (1 hour 40 minutes)
© Anderson Japanese Gardens
Master craftsman Hoichi Kurisu was called upon to design the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois, by businessman John Anderson. It was after a visit to Portland that Anderson was inspired to establish the gardens in 1978. Over the years, the space has grown into the tranquil oasis it is today.
Using three elements – stone, water, and plants – the Japanese Gardens become nature’s art, creating a thought-provoking space that restores the soul. At Anderson Japanese Gardens, visitors can walk and sit in the seasonal beauty offered by the elements and take guided tours to further understand the principles and history of the gardens.
318 Spring Creek Road, Rockford, IL, Phone: 815-229-9390
18.The Morton Arboretum (35 minutes)
© The Morton Arboretum
The Morton Arboretum has been around since 1922, serving as an outdoor museum where various trees and shrubs are exhibited. Visitors learn about the importance of protecting Mother Nature’s green gifts and become inspired to take part in their conservation. This 1,700-acre natural environment displays more than 200,000 live plants from all over the world.
Each tree and shrub is perfectly placed to give it optimum opportunity for growth and nourishment. Guests will appreciate the tree-lined trails and paved walkways around Meadow Lake. The arboretum offers special areas designated for children, an array of educational activities, an onsite library, and several annual events.
4100 Illinois Route 35, Lisle, IL, Phone: 630-968-0074
19.Day Trips from Chicago: Cantigny Park (40 minutes)
© Cantigny Park
Cantigny Park was gifted to Wheaton, Illinois, by philanthropist Colonel Robert R. McCormick and was officially opened to the public in 1958. This recreational and educational space provides visitors with a multitude of leisure opportunities. The park includes two museums, one dedicated to the legacy of Colonel McCormick and the other a tribute to military history.
It also displays acres of formal gardens and a statuary and has three miles of trails and a picnic area. There is a visitors’ center, an education center, and a 27-hole golf course with a youth golf academy and full-service clubhouse. Visitors will appreciate the onsite restaurants, walking tours, and seasonal kids’ activities.
1s151 Winfield Road, Wheaton, IL, Phone: 630-668-5161
20.Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (20 minutes)
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The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio was officially declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976, just two years after it was established as a trust to preserve his home and studio. The space holds special meaning as it is where Frank Wright developed his design principles.
It now serves as a place for future generations to learn his design techniques, interpret them, and implement them in their own visions. There are several educational programs and workshops for all ages as well as access to some of Wright’s materials, collections, and archives. Guests also have the opportunity to participate in the more than 10 tours featuring his work.
209 S. LaSalle Street, Suite 118, Chicago, IL, Phone: 312-994-4000
21.Huron-Manistee National Forests (4 hours)
© Huron-Manistee National Forests
The Huron-Manistee National Forests cover nearly a million acres and represent the only national forests in Lower Michigan. They offer visitors a plethora of recreational spaces and opportunities and are home to abundant wildlife and fish. Anglers will relish the world-class trout fishing on the Au Sable National Scenic River. Bird watchers will appreciate the self-guided Jack Pine Wildlife Viewing tour.
Avid hikers will find a portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail passing through the forest with 15 side trails. Off-road and snowmobile enthusiasts will be thrilled by the River Road National Scenic Byway, and naturalists will adore the Loda Lake National Wildflower Sanctuary and the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area.
1755 S. Mitchell Street, Cadillac, MI, 49601, Phone: 231-775-2421
22.Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens (2 hours)
© Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens
Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens is located in Rockford, Illinois, along the Rock River. It showcases 11,000 square feet of indoor tropical plants, flowers, and trees interspersed with benches, garden sculptures, a koi pond, and an infinity pond. Outdoor paths connect to a Monarch butterfly garden, Riverview Terrace, Eclipse Lagoon, two teahouses, two waterfall gardens, the Sinnissippi rose garden, Trolley Car 36 station, and Forest City Queen Riverboat dock.
An onsite indoor garden café serves light fare as well as Wednesday night rooftop dinners on their green roof viewing deck during summer. The conservatory hosts temporary exhibits like Lorikeet House and events like Family Botany Labs and Breakfast with Santa.
1354 N 2nd Street, Rockford, IL, Phone: 815-987-8858
23.Oglesby (1 hour 40 minutes)
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Oglesby is a quiet river town in the Illinois Valley located at the confluence of the Illinois and Vermillion rivers. There are two nearby parks, including the heavily forested Matthiessen State Park and Starved Rock State Park, which is the most visited park in Illinois.
Oglesby is an outdoor enthusiast’s mecca. Visitors looking for a laidback day trip will appreciate the recreational opportunities like golfing, fishing, horseback riding, canoeing, hiking, rafting, kayaking, camping, and exploring vast wooded areas. The town hosts a Harvest Fest in mid-October with family-fun activities, and a Santa’s Holiday Open House in mid-December, featuring carriage rides and other holiday activities.
24.White River State Park (3 hours)
© White River State Park
White River State Park is a 225-acre urban waterfront park in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. It has been the recipient of numerous park design and concert venue awards over the last decade. It has valuable green spaces like The Lawn, an award-winning concert venue, and WISHARD Indy Slow Food Garden, a community heirloom garden.
Historical features include the Historic Central Canal, Old Washington Street Pedestrian Bridge, and the Historic Pumphouse. Carefully chosen attractions like Shakespeare on the Canal, Celebration Plaza, Indianapolis Zoo and Gardens, Eitelijorg Museum, Victory Field, an IMAX Theater, the NCAA Hall of Champions Museum, and the Indiana State Museum share the community with visitors.
801 W Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN, Phone: 800-665-9056
25. Day Trips from Chicago: Peoria (2 hours 40 minutes)
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Peoria offers visitors all the vibrancy of a revitalized river town in the space of four downtown neighborhoods. The Central Business District is home to the Peoria Civic Center and is surrounded by upscale restaurants and hotels serving the neighborhood.
The Warehouse District is a work in progress as historic buildings are being repurposed into mixed-use spaces for artists’ studios, residents, restaurants, and shops. West Main Street is an eclectic boho neighborhood adjacent to Bradley University, and the Riverfront District is the city’s revitalized cultural and entertainment hub. Visitors will revel in the breweries, restaurants, museums, festivals, historic riverboat rides, and weekend farmers’ market.
25 Best Day Trips from Chicago, Illinois
- Milwaukee (1 hour 35 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of Riverwalker - Fotolia.com
- Holland, Michigan (2 hours 30 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of CJ Nattanai - Fotolia.com
- Kettle Moraine State Forest (2 hours 40 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of Wirepec - Fotolia.com
- Lake Geneva (1 hour 40 minutes), Photo: Lake Geneva
- Day Trips from Chicago: Naperville (40 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Village of Oak Park (15 minutes), Photo: Village of Oak Park
- Six Flags Great America (1 hour), Photo: Six Flags Great America
- Day Trips from Chicago: North Utica (1 hour 45 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of Wirepec - Fotolia.com
- Chicago Botanic Garden (35 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of elesi - Fotolia.com
- Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (1 hour), Photo: Courtesy of ori_lynn - Fotolia.com
- Road trips from Chicago: Old State Capitol State Historic Site (3 hours), Photo: Courtesy of psykon99 - Fotolia.com
- Apple River Canyon State Park (2 hours 30 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of Tomasz Zajda - Fotolia.com
- Starved Rock State Park (1 hour 35 min), Photo: Courtesy of mtruchon - Fotolia.com
- Day Trips from Chicago: Brookfield Zoo (25 minutes), Photo: Brookfield Zoo
- Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (3 hours), Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Blaum Bros. Distilling Co (2 hours 50 minutes), Photo: Blaum Bros. Distilling Co
- Anderson Japanese Gardens (1 hour 40 minutes), Photo: Anderson Japanese Gardens
- The Morton Arboretum (35 minutes), Photo: The Morton Arboretum
- Day Trips from Chicago: Cantigny Park (40 minutes), Photo: Cantigny Park
- Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (20 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of vitaprague - Fotolia.com
- Huron-Manistee National Forests (4 hours), Photo: Huron-Manistee National Forests
- Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens (2 hours), Photo: Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens
- Oglesby (1 hour 40 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of coloroby - Fotolia.com
- White River State Park (3 hours), Photo: White River State Park
- Day Trips from Chicago: Peoria (2 hours 40 minutes), Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of CJ Nattanai - Fotolia.com